The Answer Is Blowing in the Wind

Although upwards of 800 towering wind turbines provide power to countries like Denmark, Britain and other European countries, the United States has engaged in a 10-year debate over constructing Cape Wind, its first offshore wind farm planned for the south side of Cape Cod in Nantucket Sound and recently given the go-ahead by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

The 130-turbine, 420-megawatt Cape Wind project in Horseshoe Shoal is seen by supporters as an enormous step forward for renewable energy in the United States.  “This project fits with the tradition of sustainable development in the area,” Salazar said.  Blame for the long delay was placed on a poor economic climate, the vague regulatory structure and strong community opposition.  “It is imperative that Cape Wind gets built – we need the momentum,” according to Peter Giller, chief executive of OffshoreMW, which plans to build two 700-megawatt project off the shores of Massachusetts and New Jersey.  At least six offshore wind farms have been proposed for waters off the East Coast and Great Lakes that could provide electricity for hundreds of thousands of customers.  Cape Windwill produce enough renewable electricity to power 420,000 homes.

Even though offshore wind farms cost approximately twice as much as their land-based counterparts, they offer several advantages.  The winds tend to be stronger and more reliable than on land.  Another advantage is that they can be located close to urban populations, which eliminates the need for new overland transmission lines.  If the turbines are constructed far enough from the shore, they have less impact on views – which has been a primary complaint from local opponents.

The city of Evanston, IL – just north of Chicago – recently approved plans to build a wind farm in Lake Michigan which could power 30,000 homes.  Plans call for locating the turbines six to nine miles east of the Northwestern University campus.